In Review: Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden #7

Sakai has created another modern day masterpiece.

The cover: This is an extremely exciting cover that shows a scene from the climatic conclusion of this saga. Inspector Ishia and Usagi are defending themselves against the Shogunate officials. Swords are drawn and clashing as a building nearby erupts into flames. Great sense of motion in the characters from artist Stan Sakai with the title character and his opponent looking extremely realistic in their reactions. The colors on this are from Tom Luth and are also great. There’s a lot in this frontpiece and Luth does an excellent job with keeping all the elements separate; every character stands out and doesn’t blend into the background. The fire is the first thing that draws the eye with its vibrant oranges and yellows. Next are the swords whose blue blades capture attention. The robes of the characters aren’t in garish colors, but the passive tones one would expect of the time. Really nice. Overall grade: A+

The story: Writer Stan Sakai concludes his saga in ferocious fashion. The book begins with a literal face down of the heroes and the villains. The Shogunate officials are confronting Usagi, Ishida, and Kin the fence. They want the foreign book that has been the object of everyone’s desire. The leader of this group of thugs kills Oda, whose stealing of the book began this tale of woe. Before the antagonists can attack, Ishida declares them under arrest in the name of the Shogun. This gives the men a momentary shock, “Don’t you truly realize who we are?” But they do attack, with Usagi ordering Kin to stay behind him and Ishida. The battle begins, with Kin trying to save himself and the little ragamuffin thief running off to alert others. This is the largest battle I’ve seen in a Usagi comic in quite a while and it takes a majority of the issue. If this was a film, it would be a budget buster for the number of characters involved. The climax has a huge surprise, with one person doing something unexpected, though it is completely in character for the individual. I freely admit to gasping on Pages 15 and 16. The arrival of a character on 19 leads to a sad proclamation on 20. The penultimate page had me thinking that something may have occurred so quickly that I might have missed it. I turned back to a key moment before the climax and saw that something may have been possible and the reveal on 24 confirmed it. Wow! What a strong ending! The final panel is a solid and satisfying surprise. The story note that’s on the inside back cover is very enlightening and absolutely adds to the tale. Sakai has created another modern day masterpiece. Overall grade: A+

The art: Stan Sakai the artist continues to be a match for Sakai the writer. The opening page has the first two panels showing both sides of the impending battle. The third panel shows how close they are to each other, and introducing beaten Oda. Before one turns the page, note should be taken of the elaborate robe worn by Kin — it’s amazing for its details. The death of Oda is quick and the lack of any emotion but anger on the officials makes the killing even worse. The death rattle on the bottom of the second page is a Sakai trademark and it never fails to impress. The shock in the middle panel on 3 is a dramatic moment, as it shows these villains capable of something other than anger. I’m always impressed by artists that can have many characters in play during a fight and Sakai is going above and beyond the call in this issue. On top of that, he’s including fully rendered backgrounds in a majority of the panels. This is stunning to see because it makes the battle even more epic. The entrance on 6 is fantastic and all that’s missing from this moment is musical accompaniment. The top panel on 8 is a partial double-paged splash that goes onto 9 and it demonstrates the number of foes the heroic trio must battle. Even better is the lack of one character’s inclusion in the battle on the far left, leaving the others to do the dirty work. The arms and swords in the first two panels on 10 is staggering; it’s incredible that anyone is able to survive this onslaught. The beat down on 12 is shocking, but a believable moment for both characters. The action at the bottom of 15 is the biggest moment of the book, and check out the wonderful lighting effect Sakai achieves on the character in the foreground. It’s awesome, especially since it’s being accomplished in black and white. This outstanding lighting effect is really in use on the following page. The look given in the the third panel on 18 is memorable and will not be forgotten by the characters, or reader, soon. The final page is very quiet given all the action that proceeds it, though it is absolutely memorable and the perfect image to end this story. Sakai has created gold. Overall grade: A+ 

The letters: Not only legendary for his storytelling and artistic abilities, Stan Sakai is a master letterer. The opening title atop the first page uses strong strokes to create a striking title. The dialogue is very easy to read and when characters place emphasis in their words they are italicized to allow the reader to better hear the stress. Yells are in thicker letters and are italicized. There are a few whispered words, for characters speaking to themselves, and they absolutely pull the reader in closer to the emotion of the moment. There are also sounds in play. There could have been many, many more, given the number of blades clashing, but Sakai only puts in those that are necessary to progress the emotion of the plot, to show a character’s almost death (Page 11) or two dramatic sounds (13 and 16). Sakai can do no wrong. Overall grade: A+

The final line: I was filled with joy and sadness at the end of this series. The ending is one of hope for some individuals, but all the death and destruction that led to it is heartbreaking. I love how Sakai is able to take some historical elements and weave them so smoothly into his universe. This was an superb ending and I can’t wait to buy it when it’s collected…Hopefully in hardcover…Are you listening, Dark Horse? Highest possible recommendation. Overall grade: A+

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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